Speed Gene test may take the gamble out of racehorse ownership

Study establishes link between test results and prize money won by horses

The Speed Gene test analyses a racehorse’s DNA to identify the best distance at which it should compete. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

The Speed Gene test analyses a racehorse’s DNA to identify the best distance at which it should compete. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

 

A new study of racing form shows that an Irish-developed genetic test for thoroughbreds makes racehorse ownership less of a gamble.

Equine science specialist Plusvital, backed by businessman Denis O’Brien, makes the Speed Gene test, which analyses a racehorse’s DNA to identify the best distance at which it should compete.

A new study published in the Irish Veterinary Journal shows that horses that raced at the distances that the test identified outperformed on the track, winning a greater share of prize money than average for their owners.

Speed Gene has been used on 20,000 horses worldwide. The study matched the test results of more than 1,700 Irish- and British-trained horses with their race records.

According to Prof Emmeline Hill, the Plusvital chief science officer who discovered the test, the study established a link between Speed Gene’s results and the prize money won by horses.

Prize money – awarded to winning and placed runners – is central to attracting and retaining owners in racing as it helps defray the cost of keeping and training thoroughbreds.

“This research shows that racehorses over-performed in their optimum distance ranges and underperformed in races for which they were not genetically suited,” Prof Hill said.

Types of horse

Speed Gene identifies three types of horse, C:C, suited to short or sprint distances, C:T, whose optimum is middle distances and T:T, which run best at longer trips.

In the study, C:C horses accounted for 71 per cent of three-year-old runners in races of five or six eighths of a mile (furlongs).

They won 89 per cent of the available prize money an “over-performance” of 25 per cent, according to the test.

In contrast, 28 per cent of runners in these races were C:T type, but they won just 11 per cent of prize money, about two thirds less of what should have been expected. However, that group outperformed at nine to 15 furlongs, while T:T horses excelled at longer distances.

Jonathan O’Grady, son of well-known national hunt trainer Edward and principal of O’Grady Advisors, which analysed Speed Gene results against racing form, noted that the data highlighted inefficiencies in distance selection for horses.

“There is significant money to be made by those who grasp the reality of these findings,” he said.

Plusvital bought the test’s developer Equinome in 2015. Other backers include trainer Jim Bolger, who has handled high-profile horses such as 2008 Epsom Derby winner, New Approach.